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Part 1: Concern rising over production of synthetic drugs

It began several years ago with the Drug Enforcement Agency began to test packets of "incense" that was being sold in a number of shops across the nation. Instead of finding all plant material, a chemist discovered a synthetic product whose effects mimicked those of marijuana.

Since then, the government has been trying to curb the production and sales of synthetic drugs. But the battle has been uphill and though legislators are labeling this activity as a drug crime, it has been a challenge to keep up with the ever-changing spectrum of synthetic drugs.

When the DEA first caught wind of the synthetic drug market, chemists began testing the drugs by purchasing them undercover. When the DEA banned several synthetic compounds, they discovered that manufacturers would simply alter the chemical make-up of the drug.

This constant change makes it difficult for chemists to keep up with the types of synthetic drugs that exist. Chemists need to determine what is going into existing synthetic drugs while keeping an eye out for possible new compounds.

The first type of synthetic drug that was banned was a chemical used in bath salts. From there, a number of states began to ban certain chemicals used in synthetic drug manufacturing -- 43 states currently have laws in place or proposed laws that address this issue. But according to one chemist, there are likely thousands of chemicals that synthetic drug manufacturers can use.

Are these state laws actually resulting in charges and arrests? If the chemical compounds are constantly changing, how can authorities prove that a synthetic compound is actually illegal?

In the next post, we will discuss how law enforcement has approached seizing potential contraband and arresting manufacturers. In addition we will look at how a catch-all law could potentially impact individuals charged with this type of crime.

Source: Star Tribune, "Cops just can't keep up with latest designer-drug threats," Nov. 21, 2011

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